The case against 2019’s list of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees

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Earlier this month the latest list of potential inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was announced. Commentators immediately noted the prevalence of artists who had been snubbed by the induction committee more than once, some upwards of five separate times– most notably electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, proto-punk pioneers MC5 and psychedelic British Invasion band The Zombies.

But for every major snub, each year’s list of nominees include some head-scratchers, be they obscure doo-wop groups or Baby Boomer nostalgia powerhouses who these days charge $200 per concert ticket on average.

Far be it to debate the musical virtues of Stevie Nicks‘ solo career (nominated this year, Fleetwood Mac inducted in 1998), but the mere existence of this annual traditional nitpicking regarding who does and doesn’t belong in the Hall is reason enough to question the relevance not only of the Hall and Museum but of rock and roll itself in today’s musical landscape.

This can best be summed up with the highly questionable induction step of the fan poll, which limits the whole process to a popularity contest. It’s the reason that the same Boomer voters who remembered that Bon Jovi may have had “a couple of great songs” insured his induction in 2018. It will also cause the induction of both Nicks and Def Leppard in 2019, once again shafting bands like Radiohead who are critically acclaimed and influential but arguably the definition of “acquired taste.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems to be treating hip-hop artists as a substitute for the snubbing of arguably challenging artists like Radiohead or Can, however with the same cautious approach that MTV had in airing rap videos in the 1980’s. The first hip-hop artist inducted into the Hall was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 2007, a safe choice to be sure, but guaranteed based on their influence and that the mostly white, male inducting committee headed by Bruce Springsteen manager Jon Landau probably assumed most rock and roll fans would have heard “The Message.”

The white-rocker-centric nominating committee followed by the pandering fan vote pretty much guarantees esoteric artists like Roxy Music will never get inducted. Did they have any hits that played on the radio? If not, then more likely the snub.

The gradual institutionalization of rock and roll music in parties like the Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone magazine or, hell, even television commercials, pretty much guarantees the future of the music (“’cause tourists are money” as the Sex Pistols would sing). As deservedly influential as several bands were to enter the Hall, the number of those bands whose musical ethos fundamentally went against what the Hall stood for is easy to count (think: Nirvana, the Stooges, or the Pistols).

More essentially, the immortalizing of artists by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who had been snubbed multiple times may just be too little too late. The rebellious spirit of what rock and roll once stood for is reflected not on bands who recorded their first album 25 years ago, but in the music being recorded in someone’s house who may not hit the mainstream until 10 years later, or more likely not at all. This continued mentality pretty much guarantees the induction of Nickelback in 2021.

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